Bronze Buddha's banana starts religious row

London, England - A bronze statue of Buddha with a banana and two eggs in his lap has had to be turned round in an art gallery window after police warned that it was causing religious offence.

Although the display in the gallery in Norwich also features a Christ figure crucified on the back of a flying bomber and the Hindu elephant god Ganesh sitting beneath a Nazi helmet, only the Buddha has been deemed offensive.

The £125,000 sculpture, which featured in the Royal Academy's exhibition this summer, is the centrepiece of a display entitled 'A Trilogy: The Iconoclasts'.

Complaints from local Buddhists led to an investigation by the police hate crime unit in Norwich.

David Koppel, the gallery owner, has now agreed - at least, temporarily - to turn the figure round so that it is facing away from the street.

"I never anticipated that it would cause such a furore but we have been bombarded by complaints," he said.

"The police have now threatened to impound the sculpture and arrest me if it remains on public display. I have, for the time being, agreed to turn it away from the window. But, on my return from holiday next week, I fully intend to return it to its full glory and turn it back facing the street."

Mr Koppel said that the police action was "out of proportion".

Colin Self, the artist who created the statue, said: "One of the points of the work is to highlight how, in a global village where different cultures collide, you cannot help but upset somebody, somewhere, somehow.

"I think the overall effect of the sculpture is something that could have been created by somebody naive, who placed the items on the Buddha out of ignorance and inadvertently caused offence. That is the phenomenon I am trying to capture."

Tom Llewellyn, of the Norwich Buddhist Centre, said that the statue, which is more than three feet tall, would have caused widespread offence had it been exhibited in a predominantly Buddhist country.

"I do not think it has much value or imagination. It is clearly intended to be provocative," he said.

A Norfolk police spokesman said: "We have had a complaint in respect of the prominent exhibition of this statue on the basis that it causes religious offence."

An officer has visited the art gallery in question. There is no issue with the fact that the statue is on display within the gallery.

However, there is an issue with such a piece of art being displayed prominently in a window frontage in full view of passers by on a busy public street.

"We have liaised with the management of the gallery in order to reach a solution which both upholds the principles of freedom of artistic expression but also prevents any offence being caused to any general member of the public or faith group," the police spokesman said.

Mr Koppel, however, insisted that the statue would be turned round again next week.

"There is an issue of artistic freedom at stake," he said.

"Myself and Colin are prepared to face the consequences and will be taken away in handcuffs if need be."